Blog Post 1: The Importance of Abstract Ideas

At the beginning of John Maguire’s essay, “The Secret to Good Writing: It’s About Objects, Not Ideas,” I thought that the author was presenting an interesting writing method based on focusing on physical objects. I found it interesting at first, but then, as I was reading the rest of the essay, I realized that yes, giving examples might be an important skill, especially because it demonstrates that the writer have a wide knowledge and a fervid imagination, but at the same time, focusing too much on artifacts in counterproductive for the overall quality of the writing work. This is obviously my opinion; however, I am convinced that the use of only one specific method or strategy to write a paper is not sufficient, and while giving examples is certainly useful, and sometimes clarifying, it is not always necessary. The specific type of assignment give to the student is crucial in deciding how to write something, and this appears to be a detail that Dr. Maguire does not take into consideration. As I said, citing artifacts is not a bad strategy at all, but drawing from one’s ideas, beliefs, and real world experiences is much more important. Convincing the reader of something by telling an episode that has actually happened is more effective than convincing the reader with a list of objects. Also, Dr. Maguire is too severe in judging his students’ skills, and this is demonstrated by the fact that he cannot prove what he is claiming with statistics, percentages, or charts of any kind of the overall  scores reported by his students. He only cites a conversation which he presumably had with a colleague, and for one who stresses so much the importance of artifacts, this example does not look sufficient to support his statements. He also judges harshly his students’ grammar, which is not exactly pertinent to the theory he carries on in the essay. In addition, it is true that abstract ideas come from objects, but it is also true that abstract ideas can generate various examples. This inverse path is not considered noteworthy by Dr. Maguire, while I believe it is an interesting theory. In the essay, there are a few instances of object-based writing. If Dr. Maguire wants to emphasize the advantages of this writing style, he should probably add several more tips on how to write with artifacts in mind, because this is not very clear from the reading of the essay. This reading reminded me of Dr. Czikszentmihalyi’s article, “Why We Need Things,” as the latter underlines how physical objects are a consequence of modern society, and not always (if never) a good thing. “It goes without saying that one consequence of our evolution as cultural beings has been an increasing dependence on objects for survival and comfort” (20). He adds: “It is difficult to understand our psychological dependence on objects as long as we hold the belief that humans are naturally in control of what happens in their minds” (21). In my opinion, that is the reason why ideas are very important, and writers should defend them rather than relegating them in a corner like old shoes. I believe Dr. Czikszentmihalyi agrees with me as, on p. 28 of his article, he states: “If one develops control over the processes of the mind, the need to keep thoughts and feelings in shape by leaning on things decreases.” Therefore, writers should fight this dependence on objects instead of fostering it.

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3 thoughts on “Blog Post 1: The Importance of Abstract Ideas”

  1. I agree with your argument about the weakness of Maguire’s point of view: lack of supporting research, and absence of working examples which expound the approach. While his experience as a professor certainly affords him a modicum of expertise, it seems unlikely that his prescription should be taken as panacea.

    Your analysis of Czikszentmihalyi brings up an interesting point: at what point does the writer need to give up external dependences and truly come into his or her own, relying on an inner locus of control?

    Growth as a writer, in my opinion and personal experience, comes from exploration, and a scientific mindset– testing ideas, gathering “skills” from a variety of sources, and ultimately, trusting one’s own basic intelligence as a guide.

    However, coming to such a conclusion would, I believe, be impossible without having been dependent on competent teachers and writing methods which were presented to me during my formative years; the freedom of detachment or from reliance on methods and objects doesn’t usually come before methods and objects have served their purpose. I think Maguire is correct in saying that skills are teachable, and that writers are not inherently good or bad. Much as Czikszentmihalyi refers to a mindful approach in relating with objects, so does Maguire prescribe a suggestion for growing into a better writer– to approach concepts from the concrete, microcosmic level instead of the abstract macrocosmic.

  2. “As [vferarri1] said, citing artifacts is not a bad strategy at all, but drawing from one’s ideas, beliefs, and real world experiences is much more important.” I think Maguire merely meant giving abstract ideas physical descriptions. In the book, The Sun Also Rises, the main character is impotent. One way the author, Hemingway, showed impotency was to have the impotent character and another go fishing. The limper one used worm bait and sat still with his rod, while the other was fly-fishing, swinging the rod back and forth. That’s what I understood from the article anyway and I could be wrong.

    I liked that you mentioned Maguire displayed no proof of betterment by the “concrete” method, because it is only an opinion anyhow. I do agree with you, I too think writing too many objects can sound listy. I think Maguire’s way of thinking is by listing an evironment, at least one is being created. Even if it’s bad, at least the writer can make the reader of something that relates to the world like a picture. But without abstractions at all, only facts are being written. Abstractions are what makes any work unique.

  3. My largest issue with this essay is that for an individual who is so critical of abstract concepts, he himself has done a mediocre job of providing concrete examples of what exactly these “objects” are and how their implementation will create more decipherable and accurate arguments. It’s a fine concept, but if one is going to challenge an educational convention, remarks such as “I know it works, but its hard to get the idea across” won’t cut it. I wish Maquire had instead provided a fleshed out example of taking objects that pertain to the topic and how to use them as a springboard towards more broad concepts, and hopefully, more clear and impacting arguments.

    Looking past my personal opinion of the essay, Dr. Maguire’s theory is quite logical at first glance. It makes sense to encourage a writer who is struggling with nonfigurative ideas to instead begin with artifacts they have a physical connection to as a means of working their way up. It gives the writer some level of solace in their paper, and the reader may be more likely to at least grasp these examples, even if the over-arching argument is flawed. However, as some of you have already stated, relying on micro-level ideas could be a potentially destructive towards ones work. I could easily see such a technique de-emphasizing the importance of creativity and strong conceptualization, which are absolutely essential to any good paper.

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